Every generation has its own stalwart cookbook that covers all the basic and classic dishes. This is the cookbook you receive for living on your own for the first time. This is the cookbook you turn to when you have a sudden craving for homemade mac & cheese. This is the cookbook you think of when you need to make a Sunday roast to impress the in-laws. This is the cookbook that wins you adorations when you present a child with the most handsome birthday cake complete with multiple layers and swirls of frosting. For the longest time, The Joy Of Cooking holds this esteem honour. With the publication of The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook from the editors at Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, I think it is time to clear a spot on my kitchen bookshelf so it is always within easy reach when I’m in the kitchen.
It is no secret that I am a fan of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. On top of the table of contents of The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, the team proudly proclaims “20 Years Of Recipes That Work”. This is not a modest statement but they are not being boastful either. If I am to invest time and money into a dish, I want to know that the recipe I use is accurate, well-tested, and yields predictably delicious result. This is exactly what you can expect from this cookbook.
The cookbook follows the no-nonsense style of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. Every recipe begins with a brief description of “Why This Recipe Works”. Key steps come with precise illustration to avoid ambiguity. Ingredients and directions are both clearly written. What you will not find is mouth-watering photography nor personal anecdote that are so popular in cookbooks these days. Although the 2000+ recipes from the archive are logically divided into chapters such as salads, poultry, grilling, eggs and breakfast, fruit desserts, and beverages, chances are it is too overwhelming to browse through any chapter for recipe ideas. The index is what transforms this cookbook from a collection of 20 years of work to a practical tool for better meals at home. You can look up by ingredient if you come across a deal on walnuts and need recipe ideas. You can search by the name of a dish if you recall an old favourite. Some cooking technique and tips are also listed so this is not just a book of recipes. However, I’m going to show you my trick of making the most use out of this cookbook. I am not a subscriber to America's Test Kitchen or any of its family of websites due to financial reasons. Most of the recipes are only available to subscribers but I can still make use of their search engine. Once I have a list of recipes returned in the search result, I can look up the cookbook for the corresponding recipe. Essentially I have an accompanying online search engine for the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook!
As much as I love this new stalwart in my cookbook collection, I do have one small complaint. The very last page is filled with conversion tables for temperature, weight, and volume. Those are certainly useful but one can find such information easily. The key table on this page is the conversion chart for baking ingredients from volume to metric and imperial weight measurement. Baking is about precision and I am an advocate for baking by weight. I only wish this chart is more comprehensive than just the few ingredients listed.
Want to get a taste of the recipes you find in The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook? Check these out!